For months after my best friend, Nance, passed away, I was a broken-down mess. Some weeks I couldn't sleep, followed by weeks when I couldn't pull myself from bed. Grief congested in me like the flu. Reading, my go-to solace, proved impossible; I'd idly turn pages without comprehension. I was exhausted, drained, as if cell by cell my body was learning to live without my best friend of more than 40 years. I didn't want to learn. Nance had been the most alive person I'd known—funny and complicated, a loyal companion and a better mom. Going to work or the supermarket, I'd put forth a decent effort—under-eye concealer, matted hair brushed smooth, a pasted-on smile—but the world seemed sharply lit, too jarringly eager. I didn't know whether I still belonged to that buzz of everyday life. Mostly, I chose to be alone.

Then one afternoon, slumped in an Adirondack chair next to a lake, I cracked up over one of the idiotic-to-anyone-else jokes that Nance and I had found hilarious. We'd had no shortage of them. This one was hatched during a grade school sleepover, when we'd drawn up an invitation that read "We're having a party, and you're not invited!" For hours we playacted sending it out, and then for years we whispered the mean-girl phrase to each other at inappropriate moments, to our uproarious delight.

I heard my laughter echo over the water; it startled me. It occurred to me that laughing—deep, stupid, belly-clutching laughter—was a truer expression of our friendship than the blanket of grief I'd been tangled in for months. I tipped my face toward the dappled light. For the first time since her death, Nance wasn't lost to me. There she was in our endless goofy jokes. There she was in the simple, lazy drift of an afternoon—the glug of lake frogs, my bare feet on a wooden dock. Holding tight to grief, I now understood, was a betrayal. Being awake to delight had always been at the heart of our friendship, something we'd promised each other when we were girls: In fourth grade, we'd taken a blood-sister oath that included a vow to be up for all challenges and fun. I would stay true to our pact.

It was suddenly clear: This was the party, and I had a standing invitation. I jumped off the dock into the cold water. Nance would have wondered what took me so long.


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